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Riverland vineyard wins new national award for innovation

Ricca Terra Caravel Vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland has been named the Innovative Vineyard of the Year – winning a trophy dubbed “The Groundbreaker” at new national vineyard awards. 

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After a six-month search that has included multiple rounds of judging and site inspections of vineyards around Australia, Young Gun of Wine has announced the trophy winners for the inaugural Vineyard of the Year Awards.

The judging panel consisted of Max Allen, Dr Mary Cole, Dr Peter Dry AM, Dr Mardi Longbottom, Dr Irina Santiago-Brown and Mark Walpole. They were supported by our vineyard inspectors: Chris Penfold (SA), Colin Bell (WA), John Whiting (VIC), Kellie Graham (TAS) and Liz Riley (NSW/ACT).

Max Allen sees the awards as, “A great opportunity to shift the focus of our national wine conversation from how wines are made to how they’re grown.”

He described judging the awards as “both the most exciting and most frustrating experience. Exciting because it made me realise – or, rather, reminded me – how much great work is being done out there in vineyards across Australia: so many people are going to such extraordinary lengths to look after their land, to make their vines more resilient, to produce better, more distinctive wine. And frustrating because it was almost impossible to narrow such a strong field down to just four winners!”

“The joyous part of the vineyard visits was the chance to kick the dirt and to get inside the minds of the custodians of these great vineyards,” said Liz Riley. “To see and hear the connection between the people who quite literally live and breathe the vineyards in their care. There is a quiet but true and burning love between the vineyard custodians and the sites that they care for.”

“This competition has revealed that we have many outstanding vineyards and vignerons in Australia,” said Dr Peter Dry. “We have chosen four winners on this occasion, but there are many other ‘winners’ out there who are equally deserving.”

Congratulations goes to all the Top 50 finalists, and these are the inaugural trophy winners:

New Vineyard of the Year – Place of Changing Winds, Macedon Ranges (VIC), established by Robert Walters with vineyard manager Remi Jacquemain.

Place of Changing Winds is an incredible labour of love, a vineyard so ambitiously conceived and realised that it is somewhat hard to get your head around until you actually see it for yourself. With a focus on pinot noir and chardonnay, some blocks are planted at 33,000 vines per hectare, and with multiple clones and combinations of rootstocks. The farming is certified organic and exhaustively manual to the degree where one worker is required per hectare. It's an excruciatingly laborious commitment to the pursuit of perfection – a tour de force – and it’s a project that will yield profoundly interesting, likely game-changing, results in the years and decades to come.

Old Vineyard of the Year – Best’s Concongella Vineyard, Great Western (VIC), under the stewardship of viticulturist Ben Thomson.

The Thomson family have owned Best's for 100 years, with an unmatched resource of ancient vines that are a true national treasure. It is a unique collection of own-rooted pre-phylloxera grapevines predating the grafted vineyards of Europe and most of the world. With the oldest pinot noir, pinot meunier and dolcetto vines in the world, Best’s also has a collection of about 40 rare varieties, including ones that have defied identification. The Concongella Vineyard is very much a living museum, with the family intent on preserving the heritage for future generations through propagation of vines and opening their doors for researchers from around the world, as well as a progressive approach to farming to preserve the soil structure and to build soil carbon and biological activity, with a desire to focus on longer term sustainability.

Innovative Vineyard of the Year, dubbed ‘The Groundbreaker’ – Ricca Terra Caravel Vineyard, Riverland (SA), established by viticulturist Ashley Ratcliff.

Ashley Ratcliff, through his Ricca Terra operation, has almost single-handedly redefined the possibilities and expectations of the Riverland as a wine region, defying the quantity over quality reputation. By employing viticulture practices that are employed in premium wine-growing regions and planting climate-apt grape varieties, Ratcliff has flipped the script. His newest venture, the Caravel Vineyard, which is in conversion to organics, was planted to largely celebrate Portuguese varieties. Ratcliff’s approach, with Caravel a distillation of lessons over the years, as well as a testing ground for innovative practices, offers a new blueprint for not just the Riverland to follow, but for so many other regions that are feeling the effects of climate change.

Vineyard of the Year – Swinney Vineyard, Frankland River (WA) managed by Lee Hasselgrove.

At 160 hectares, the Swinney Vineyard is large, but it is guided by viticulturist Lee Haselgrove with a small-scale approach, supplying fruit to around 30 top makers, as well as for their own label, which is making considerable waves at present. The Swinney Vineyard represents modern viticulture interwoven with Old-World techniques, executed with precision through a combination of exhaustive manual work and state-of-the-art technology, and all underpinned by an environmental focus. They are pushing the limits of grape varieties and challenging the norms to search for wines of distinct provenance and expression. The scale of the vineyard, coupled with their pinpoint focus and pursuit of innovation, and the quality of the resulting wines, is truly extraordinary and inspiring.

While we’ve just announced these four trophy winners, the most telling statement about winegrowing in Australia was made by the group of 50 finalists. As Allen sums it up, “For me, the strongest outcome of this whole process is the list of the 50 finalists: it is a truly inspiring snapshot of Australia’s vibrant modern winegrowing community.”

The inaugural Vineyard of the Year Awards are brought together with thanks to partners FMR Group, Netafim, Nutrien, Roundwood Solutions, Stoller and Syngenta.

Applications for the next edition, the 2021 Vineyard of the Year Awards, will open in June 2021.